OPINION | Gender reveals must be left behind

gender

Ori Tsameret, Intersections Editor

Over this past Labor Day weekend, a family in suburban southern California was preparing for what has become a ritual affair in America these days: a gender reveal party. Although this is not an uncommon event, the result certainly was, with the flashy pyrotechnics involved starting a wildfire that consumed over 10,000 acres of land. This party was hardly the only one to yield such results. Plane crashes, car combustions and even the death of relatives have all taken place as a direct result of these celebrations in the past couple of years. This poses the question: are gender reveals even worth it?

Gender reveal parties can be traced back to the late 2000s, with the first one being credited to Jenna Karvunidis in 2008, when she cut a cake with pink frosting. Since then, gender reveal parties have gained popularity, even becoming a social media trend of sorts as digital-age parents started to post images of their elaborate parties for public audiences. 

In today’s political atmosphere, however, gender reveal parties expose unhealthy aspects of our culture. They are rooted in, and therefore reinforce, heteronormative and cisnormative notions of gender and gender performance. The party themes that are commonly chosen by parents to represent the “options” for the baby typically endorse a binary view of gender: football for boys and dance for girls, for example. These constructs of gender identity are completely out of touch with the appropriate academic definitions, which place gender identity on a spectrum, not a binary, and posit it to be more fluid than the gender binary allows. 

Furthermore, these celebrations, coupled with social media, may feed into competitive consumerism and oversharing, according to Carly Gieseler, an assistant professor at the City University of New York. Seeing these parties widely circulated on social media may motivate soon-to-be parents to pursue grandiose events that will impress or surpass the gender reveal parties they’ve seen before. This toxic need to outdo others in this performance stems from the capitalist ideologies of our culture and are proving to be harmful, from the southern California wildfire from this year to using alligators as the mechanism for the reveal. 

Although they are seemingly harmless, gender reveal parties are capable of causing a lot of damage in the long run. To begin with, they entirely erase the existence of intersex individuals, who constitute 1-2% of the population. Furthermore, operating on a strict gender binary alienates queer and transgender individuals who may have gender expressions that don’t align with the expectations set by these parties. Having to come out as trans to your parents knowing they placed adherence to gender norms on a public pedestal cannot be easy to do.

Even Karvunidis has acknowledged that gender reveal parties have gone too far and her views on gender and sexuality have shifted since she launched the trend. Maybe it’s time to listen to her advice and leave this tradition in the past.